For most of my life, I’ve felt like I had two choices when it came to expressing my sexuality: I could be a dirty (as in sinful, impure, unwanted) girl or I could be a dirty (as in sexy, desirable, objectified) girl. Some choice, huh? It seemed no matter what way I turned, sex and shame were linked together.
There was a pervasive assumption in the Evangelical culture in which I grew up—one that still, unfortunately, persists in some areas—that women didn’t really have sexual desires, only men did. I even remember reading in some book from my parents’ bookshelf (the title is long forgotten) that “Women give sex for love. Men give love for sex.” But something must have been wrong with me because once I turned 15, I discovered that pesky “desire” that I wasn’t supposed to have—and it wasn’t just for “love,” it was most definitely for sex. Of course, this wasn’t what women were supposed to want, this was what men were supposed to want and were constantly on the prowl to coerce, cheat, or force out of women. But I wanted it—and the girl who “wants it” is dirty. Furthermore, because of my upbringing, sexual desire just wasn’t thinkable for me outside of the male gaze (which might explain why the only model of desire that I could really find to explain how I felt was that of gay men).
The outworking of these two ideas—the “dirty” girl and the lascivious man—in my adolescent and adult life wasn’t very pretty. Some of my earliest fantasies were rape fantasies because in them my sexual desire could be mediated through the figure of the violent, desiring man and I could feel a little less guilty about my desires (since I “had no control”) though the feeling of dirtiness remained. By the time I’d hit adulthood, the association between sex and shame was so strong that—unable to escape the pleasure I felt in sex—I simply began to masochistically associate shame with pleasure. Eventually, I could only be with men who fully objectified and humiliated me: they had to be in control because sexual desire ultimately “belonged” to them—I couldn’t think my sexuality outside of my role as sexual object for male consumption—and I’d grown perversely attached to the idea of being “dirty,” a coping mechanism that developed when I realized that I’d never be one of the “pure.” Continue reading